Neighborhood Environmental Survey

As part of FAA's ongoing research program on aircraft noise, the Agency conducted a nationwide survey regarding annoyance related to aircraft noise. For detailed information on this Neighborhood Environmental Survey (NES), please review the survey introduction below and read the NES report: 

The FAA held a public webinar on the NES and the FAA's Noise Research Portfolio on February 22, 2021.

Further information on FAA's aircraft noise research program, can also be found on a Federal Register notice published on January 13, 2021.

This Federal Register notice invited comments on the FAA's aircraft noise research program, including the survey, through a 90-day total period which closed on April 14, 2021.

Below is an introduction to the survey and an overview of the methodology, results, and public comments requested.


Rationale for a New Survey

While the Schultz Curve remains the accepted standard for describing transportation noise exposure-annoyance relationships, its original supporting scientific evidence and social survey data were based on information that was available in the 1970s. The last in-depth review and revalidation of the Schultz Curve was conducted in 1992. More recent analyses have shown that aviation noise results in higher annoyance than other modes of transportation. Recent international social surveys have also generally shown higher annoyance than the Schultz Curve. These analyses and survey data indicate that the Schultz Curve may not reflect the current U.S. public perception of aviation noise.

Schultz Curve

illustration of Schultz Curve

To ensure that FAA's continued efforts to reduce the effects of aircraft noise exposure on communities is based upon accurate information, FAA conducted a nationwide survey to measure the relationship between aircraft noise exposure and annoyance in communities near airports. This survey would capture the community response to a modern fleet of aircraft as they are being flown today and it would use best practices in terms of noise analysis and data collection. The responses from the survey have been used to create a new National Curve.

The Survey results show that there has been a substantial change in the public perception of aviation noise, relative to the Schultz Curve, and will ultimately inform future FAA noise initiatives.

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FAA surveyed more than 10,000 residents living near 20 representative airports via a mailed questionnaire. The questionnaire was presented to the public as a Neighborhood Environmental Survey and asked the recipient if different environment concerns bother, disturb, or annoy them. Noise from aircraft was one of the thirteen environmental concerns that were covered in the Survey. Since the aircraft noise question was one of 13 environmental concerns listed, the recipient did not know this was in fact an airport community noise survey. The data from the Survey, the single largest survey of this type undertaken at one time, was used to calculate the new National Curve and provides a contemporary picture of response to aircraft noise exposure. A follow up phone survey was also offered to the 10,000 mail survey respondents, and just over 2,000 elected to participate. The phone survey was designed to provide additional insights on how the mail survey respondents feel about aircraft noise.

Methodology Specifics: Airport Selection

At the outset of the work, the FAA assembled a team of statisticians, survey experts and aircraft noise experts to determine the best methods for conducting the survey. The team decided to survey communities around a representative set of airports. A statistical approach was used to develop a set of airports that would be representative of the entire nation. A total of 95 airports met the initial criteria that ensured the selected airports would have a minimum number of jet aircraft operations and households exposed to noise:

Airport Selection — Minimum Criteria

  • At least 100 JET operations per day
  • At least 100 households exposed to aircraft noise of DNL 65 and above
  • At least 100 households exposed to levels between DNL 60 DB and 65 DB

From the 95 airports meeting the initial criteria, a final set of 20 airports was selected for the survey by using a method referred to as "balanced sampling." The FAA chose a set of six factors to ensure that the 20 airports selected for the survey shared the same characteristics as the original set of 95 airports.

Airport Selection through Balanced Sampling Factors

Six balanced sampling factors are described:1.	Located in each of eight FAA regions in the contiguous United States2.	Average Daily Temperature in three categories: Above seventy degrees Fahrenheit; between seventy degrees and fifty five degrees Fahrenheit; and below fifty five degrees Fahrenheit3.	Percent of Day-Night Level Nightime operations in two categories: Above twenty percent night time operations; and below twenty percent night time operations.4.	Average daily flight operations in two categories:   Above three hundred daily operations; and below three hundred daily operations.5.	Aircraft fleet mix ratio in two categories:  More large jet aircraft than commuter jet aircraft; and more commuter jet aircraft than large jet aircraft.6.	Population within five miles in two categories:  Population above two hundred and thirty thousand; and population below two hundred and thirty thousand.

Population Selection

For each of the 20 airports selected, household addresses were considered based on their aircraft noise exposure. A DNL of 50 dB was chosen as the minimum noise exposure to be eligible for inclusion in the survey. In order to ensure households exposed to a range of noise levels were considered, the Survey aimed to obtain a distribution of respondents in five groups of 5-decibel increments (50-55 DNL dB, 55-60 DNL dB, etc.). Of the selected airports, there was a smaller pool of households exposed to noise levels above DNL 65dB than households exposed to lower noise levels. The drop-off in households for noise levels above DNL 70dB was even more pronounced. As a result, the number of respondents for these noise levels were smaller than the other categories.

Total Number of Survey Responses
DNL dB Categories Survey Respondents
50-55 3,592
55-60 3,481
60-65 2,016
65-70 914
70+ 325
Total 10,328

Mail Survey Data Collection

The U.S. Postal Service Computerized Delivery Sequence File (CDSF) was used to develop the addresses to which the Survey would be sent. The Survey was distributed to each selected household by the U.S. Postal Service (and via express mail in some cases) in six separate "waves" over a 12-month period starting in October 2015. English and Spanish versions were distributed to each household, along with a pre-paid $2 gift card as an incentive. The survey was sent to 40,000 households and over 10,000 people responded to the Survey by filling out the questionnaire and sending it back to the research team.

Survey Distribution

The survey questionnaire followed the recommendations of the leading international research organization on noise-induced effects on human beings. It included the key question: "Thinking about the last 12 months or so, when you are here at home, how much does each of the following bother, disturb, or annoy you?" For this question there were 13 different environmental topics, and survey respondents were asked to rate their annoyance on a scale from one to five (five being most annoyed).

Data from all this question was then analyzed, but with the focus placed on the responses to item "e" in the list, namely "Noise from Aircraft." This question is highlighted below for clarity, but all questions were presented equally in surveys issued to respondents.

Thinking about the last 12 months or so, when you are here at home, how much does each of the following bother, disturb, or annoy you?

Rate each on a scale of 1-5, with 5 meaning "most annoying."

  • Noise from cars, trucks or other road traffic
  • Smells or dirt from road traffic
  • Smoke, gas or bad smells from anything else
  • Litter or poorly kept up housing
  • Noise from aircraft
  • Your neighbors’ noise or other activities
  • Any other noises you hear when you are here at home. If this bothers or annoys you, what is the noise?
  • Undesirable business, institutional or industrial property
  • A lack of parks or green spaces
  • Inadequate public transportation
  • The amount of neighborhood crime
  • Poor city or county services
  • Any other problems that you notice when you are here at home. If this bothers or annoys you, what is the problem?

Phone Survey Data Collection

Mail survey respondents were also invited to participate in a follow up phone survey. A $10 gift card was offered as an incentive and approximately two thousand respondents agreed to participate. The phone survey included a wide range of questions designed to provide further information about the reasons why respondents may be concerned about aircraft noise. While the results are insightful, it is important to note that the phone survey findings do not maintain the same statistical robustness as the primary mail survey.

Noise Modeling

Using the FAA's Integrated Noise Model (INM), DNL was computed twice for each airport. Note that although INM was replaced in 2015 by the FAA's Aviation Environmental Design Tool (AEDT), the noise modeling for the survey had begun prior to the release of AEDT and had been used to inform the selection the respondents. The use of INM was maintained for consistency throughout the project.

The first DNL computation determined which addresses would receive the mail Survey. To determine the noise model inputs, a year of radar flight tracking data from 2012-2013 was used, which includes data detailing aircraft flight paths, runway usage, time of day flight occurrences, and aircraft type.

The second DNL computation for each of the 20 airports adjusted these inputs to reflect actual 2015 aircraft operations levels. This coincided with the Survey distribution. Updated noise levels were then paired with the Survey response data to create the National Curve.

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A new National Curve was created by combining the Survey responses from the question on "Noise from Aircraft" with the modeled aircraft noise levels. Compared with the existing Schultz Curve, the new National Curve shows a substantial increase in the percentage of people who are highly annoyed by aircraft noise over the entire range of aircraft noise levels considered, including at lower noise levels.

Refer to the following caption.

The new Survey was designed to use a consistent approach across each airport community surveyed. This has allowed for an enhanced ability to provide additional statistical information about the new results, such as the 95% Confidence Limits and range of results from each of the 20 airports, as shown on the plot above. This was not possible with the older Schultz Curve.

When comparing the two curves, a variety of factors should be considered. Both analyses were conducted using the best survey data and understanding available at their time. However, many changes and advances have occurred in the 40 years since the Schultz Curve was created.

Potential factors for these differences still need to be explored; but to provide additional insight, mail survey respondents were also invited to participate in a detailed phone survey aimed at understanding the underlying reasons for annoyance to aircraft noise. The majority of phone survey respondents who were likely to be annoyed by aircraft noise indicated that they have experienced being "Startled", "Frightened", or "Awakened" by aircraft at home. Those who were bothered, disturbed, or annoyed by "General Traffic Noise" or "Smells" were also more likely to be annoyed by aircraft noise.

For additional information on the Survey, the FAA has prepared a detailed technical report.

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Frequently Asked Questions

For more information on the Neighborhood Environmental Survey findings and how to submit your comments, please see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

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Last updated: Thursday, August 31, 2023